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How I Address the Question of Enterprise 2.0 ROI

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

Establishing a solid ROI for enterprise social software is an ongoing discussion for the sector. It is generally a requirement for most technology decisions made by companies. At a high level, there are two sides to this argument:

  1. Measuring Enterprise 2.0 ROI is like trying to measure the ROI of email, it can’t be done
  2. Inability to measure ROI is a cop-out or evidence of the lack of value for social software

Martin Koser has a really thoughtful piece along these lines.  It is something that I’ve met head-on in my work at Connectbeam. We have several large, blue chip enterprises with whom we’re engaging. And the need for some sort of ROI justification is a recurring request.

I want to share how I’m approaching this request. Before that, I want to describe my experience in providing ROI for enterprise software, of the non-social kind. It’s useful as a point of comparison.

The ROI of Re-engineering the Credit Approval Process

I worked for a company named eFinance from 2000  – 2005. eFinance provided a hosted application that let enterprises run automatic credit evaluations on their commercial customers. This is an activity in most large corporations badly in need of improvement. I had the privilege of designing the scorecards for Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., using basic statistical analysis of actual customer payments and defaults.

For purposes of understanding what’s important in the world of back-office credit, here’s all you need to know:

  • Businesses have credit records with D&B and Experian, which enterprises access for credit applicants
  • New credit applications are manually reviewed by a remote credit office
  • Initial credit decisions = Approved, Further Review, Declined
  • Further Reviews can be either Approved or Declined

Turns out, there are some inefficiencies in the process. Inefficiencies which enterprise credit software can solve. The table below shows them.

efinance-improvements-to-credit-process

For the “R” part of ROI, the benefits are clear. The data costs were reduced with our credit system. Easy to apply the cost differential against the number of credit reports to arrive at a dollar savings. The credit reviews were another easy area for which to calculate the benefits. Each Further Review takes an average amount of time, which for a given volume means you needed N people. Reduce the percentage of Further Reviews, and fewer people are needed for a given volume of credit applications. Meaning headcount reductions.

The third benefit was faster response time to contractors seeking to rent equipment. While they didn’t have stats for lost business due to delays in responding to customers, feedback from the field was that this was an issue.Indeed, this third benefit was considered the most valuable.

From the eFinance work with Hertz, what characteristics are of relevance in considering Enterprise 2.0 ROI?

  • Ability to measure ROI was directly related to the ability to measure the underlying activity
  • The tangible dollar savings justified the project costs, while the intangible benefit of customer response time was the most exciting
  • The software was applied to a very specific activity

With that in mind, let’s turn to the question of ROI for social software.

The ROI of Enterprise 2.0

The challenge with social software is that it addresses unpredictable, unmeasurable activities. And Enterprise 2.0 addresses a range of activities, not just a single process inside companies.

The graphic below is part of my ROI presentation for Connectbeam:

bases-of-roi-connectbeam

My X axis measures the predictability of the benefit. “Predictability” in this instance referring to the ability to know ahead of time how the benefits will manifest themselves. Reflect on this measure for the eFinance work for Hertz. Predictability was high for:

  • Usage of cheaper D&B data reports with less data
  • Reduction in FTE hours for processing Further Review applications

My Y axis measures the amount of value for the different benefits. “Value” defined in terms of revenue impact and dollar savings. In the eFinance example, the benefit of faster response time to customers, while not readily calculable based on existing data, was perceived to be a strong value proposition.

For Connectbeam, I put the benefits into three buckets:

  1. Time savings (see this IBM article for how much)
  2. Increased connections between need & knowledge (see this Connectbeam blog post for an example)
  3. Stronger more diverse employee social graphs (see my earlier post for an empirical study of this)

I plotted them as having increasing value, but decreasing predictability. I won’t go into detail on how I describe these buckets, but the links above touch on it.

Essentially, the time savings are real, but are the lowest return to the enterprise. I look at those as the easiest to predict, with defined dollar benefits. In the ROI presentation, I can show how these alone offer payback on Connectbeam.

It’s the higher-value benefits where the ROI story is harder to present. After considering my previous success in identifying and articulating an ROI story for non-social enterprise software,

The ability to have predictable ROI for software is directly correlated to the predictability of the underlying activity that uses the software

Think about that. With the credit software, there was a standard process with known unit volumes. Each step in the process could be measured in time. Frederick Winslow Taylor would have loved it for its predictability, standardization and amenity to quantification.

What underlying activities does social software address?

  • Collaboration
  • Better decisions through improved access to relevant knowledge and content
  • Tapping the little bits of knowledge employees have en masse to provide better direction
  • More agile enterprise through improved connections and ambient awareness

All of those activities include elements of being unplanned, ad hoc, and creative. In short, they’re unpredictable and unmeasurable. The benefits also apply across a wide range of activities within the organization. Maybe Finance as a better handle on a new accounting issue that’s cropping up. Sales is up-to-speed on a customer’s hot buttons faster. R&D connects with the right field person to talk through a new innovation.

Like the feeling that faster response time to customers will result in higher sales and more satisfied customers in the eFinance example, the activities and problems addressed by Enterprise 2.0 are known to anyone inside a company. But no existing measures for the problems associated to these activities exist. Nor is there a good way to systematically measure their improvement.

That’s why anecdotes from the front line are so important. They show that improvements are happening with social software, even though you couldn’t pinpoint where at the start of the project.

Dennis Howlett is one my personal favorites out there in the world of enterprise software. He has an accounting background, so he’s pretty hard on soft, fuzzy feelings about the value of Enterprise 2.0. I did find it interesting  that this was his perspective on where ROI comes from:

In my argument, breakthrough ROI comes from seeing these technology through the lens of collaboration, which in turn implies process and context. I am mindful that huge amounts of value continue to be locked up in supply chains. AMR quoted a number of $3 trillion in 2005. Has that materially changed? Simply being able to communicate across supply chains in a meaningful manner could do wonders to lubricate those rusty wheels.

Note what he’s saying there:

  • Apply social software to a specific area (supply chain management)
  • Lack of communication among various parties is causing enterprises to tie up too much cost, capital in the supply chain
  • Even here, the benefit is one step removed from a hard, tangible ROI. Improved communication begets the benfit, although how it does so is on the intangible side of things.

To wrap it up, my approach is to push forward with the ways in which Enterprise 2.0 delivers ROI. We cannot escape this duty in the industry. But I also am working to set expectations for how predictable this ROI will be going in to a project. After all…

Software ROI is only as predictable as the activity for which it is used

*****

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 020609

From the home office in Victoria, Australia…

#1: Interesting convo w/ colleague. Is there any risk to tweeting that you’re traveling on vacation? Burglars searching for such tweets?

#2: Guy was turned down for a job because he switched majors his freshman year of college. Say what? Details: http://bit.ly/23yHBT

#3: FriendFeed continues to roll out the powerful features. Latest? Much more granular search options, very helpful: http://bit.ly/VNYX

#4: I’m impressed w/ Yammer’s hustle. If you’re doing an internal preso on it, they’ll help you with the preso. Smart. E.g.: http://bit.ly/PR1A

#5: RT @beccayoungs I really do think the Amazon Kindle will be a game-changer. Check this out – Kindle to be a $1B product http://tr.im/eflz

#6: RT @barconati Oh no! Yahoo briefcase is closing. Believe it or not I still use it. More out of habit than anything else http://tr.im/e88z

#7: Mike Gotta on the rise of employee social profiles inside companies: http://bit.ly/135Vz Benefits and advice w/ nice Connectbeam shout-out

#8: Check out http://www.socialwhois.com/ Lets you search for people on based on keywords in their lifestreams. Very cool.

#9: RT @lehawes w00t! I made the Wall St. Journal today! Page A11 in print edition or online at http://bit.ly/iRcH

#10: After the WSJ coverage…@lehawes blogs about being included in a recent WSJ article: Taken Out of Context http://bit.ly/17aRy

One Thing Social Software Needs: The Guaranteed Delivery Button

At the start of January, Jennfier Leggio and I launched the 2009 Email Brevity Challenge. The goal is to reduce the length of emails, with an eye toward migrating a lot of what’s in them elsewhere.

Well, January is over. Time to see how I did:

email-stats-jan-09

As you can see, I’ve got some work to do. First, my average email weighs in at 164 characters. 164 characters…hmm, doesn’t sound so bad but it’s pretty far beyond 140 characters.

Even worse, 41% of my emails are beyond the bar set for the email brevity challenge. One positive? Check out that median length – my heart is in the right place in terms of brevity.

But I can do better.

Looking at my emails, I see an obvious candidate for cutback. Seven of those 140+  character emails are essentially links with commentary of snippets.

Say what? You work for a social bookmarking company man! And you’re emailing links?!!

Well, yes. But I also bookmark them. Let me explain. I bookmark plenty of links for my own purposes. And true to social bookmarking’s purpose, other people can find them as well, which is better for discussions around the information.

Some of these bookmarks are more than useful information I want for recall later or for others to find in their research. Some are relevant to things that we’re working on right now. They provide context to product, development and marketing efforts.

Those bookmarks need to have higher visibility than typical links do.  And a problem with only bookmarking a link is that many people won’t see it who should.

That’s what email provides: guaranteed delivery. Everyone is using the app, and everyone checks their email. So I know the link + commentary will be seen. What social software needs is an equivalent mechanism.

Social Software Options for Guaranteed Delivery

In fact, many apps do have such guaranteed delivery mechanisms. For instance, you can think of the @reply on Twitter as a form of that. Although even then, it requires someone checking that tab. So TweetReplies will actually email you when someone uses your @name in a tweet.

As I wrote before, email’s evolving role in social media will be more notification, less personal communication. Email is still a centralized place for all manner of notifications and it has that lovely guaranteed delivery aspect.

So what are alternatives for emails inside companies?

Inside my company, I actually have three alternatives to emailing the links with lots of commentary”

Connectbeam: As I mentioned, a simple bookmark has no guarantee of visibility. But the app does include email (and RSS) notifications of new content. You can subscribe to emails of individuals’ and Groups’ activity in real-time, or get a daily digest of those options plus keyword-based notifications. So what I can do is set up a Group, call it “Email Worthy”. I then have all my colleagues subscribe to real-time notifications of activity in that Group. Voila! I add a note to my bookmark, save it to the Group and I know everyone will get it.

Confluence: Another option is to create a wiki page for these entries. I can put longer form commentary in the pages, include a link and tag them. Since Connectbeam automatically sucks Confluence wiki pages into its database, these individual wiki pages would be as good as a bookmark. I could then email a link to the wiki page (using a bit.ly URL), going Twitter style with a brief intro.

Yammer: Yammer now has Groups. Which is something people have been wanting with Twitter. You can publish a message in Yammer (a “yamm”?) to just a particular Group. Yammer has nicely added an email notification feature for Groups. So similar to what I described above for Connectbeam, we can create a Group on Yammer called “Email Worthy”. Everyone can join the Group and elect to recieve email notifications when new yamms come through.  I can post the link + commentary, and be assured of guaranteed delivery.

One problem with using Yammer this way is that information put there is separate from the wiki entries and bookmarks we have. So people would have to check two places for information. As I wrote over on the Connectbeam blog, that creates a de facto silo.

It’s February, A New Month

I’m going to experiment a bit with this. Of course, I need to get my colleagues to subscribe to email notifications for Connectbeam. But I’ll just tell them, “do that or I’ll email ya!” And I’ll try the Confluence wiki approach as well.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

*****

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Google Alerts Ain’t Working – Why Don’t They Use Attention Signals?

Do you use Google Alerts?

I do. I’ve got seven of them set up. Generally, they’re pretty helpful. But they often suffer in terms of quality. Here’s a few comments with regard to that:

#1: @VMaryAbraham so am I. Google alerts and blog search have been delivering really bad quality results lately. Old and spam.

#2: Google Alerts actually sent me some useful info today instead of the usual mess of bizarre kitchen sink links from random years and places.

#3: @JesseStay my Google alerts are similarly getting less useful

One of my alerts is for ‘Enterprise 2.0′. I’m doing a pretty good job of staying on top of things in the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed, but the Alerts are good back-up. And Google Alerts are the most common keyword notification service that people use.

So this is my question: what determines the links we see in those daily Google Alerts?

I ask this because of a recent experience with a well-received blog post that was not included in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Alerts. Compared to another post that did make it in to the Google Alerts, I find myself mystified as to what algorithm Google is using to generate its Alerts.

It’s not to say that Google Alerts don’t deliver some good posts – they do. But they seem to miss the mark pretty often as well, as the quotes at the start of this post show. I’ll relate my own experience below, based on objective factors, as opposed to my own declaration that “It was good post dammit!” ;-)

Tale of Two Blog Posts

I checked the Google Alert of January 18 for Enterprise 2.0. Here’s what I saw (my red highlight added):

google-alert-enterprise-20-011809

The highlighted post is a schedule of Web 2.0 sessions for Lotusphere 2009. If you’re into Lotus, good stuff. One session at Lotusphere was titled “INV101 -   From Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0: Collaboration, Productivity, and Adoption in the Enterprise”. Hence, its inclusion in the Enterprise 2.0 Google Alert.

I use that entry as a contrast to a post I wrote on the Connectbeam blog, titled Three Silos That Enterprise 2.0 Must Break. It’s a post that pushed some definitions of what a silo is and where knowledge management needs to move to. It was well-received, with a number of attention signals like Del.icio.us bookmarks and tweets.

And you’ll notice it’s not listed in the Alerts email above, or in any earlier ones. It was included in my ‘Connectbeam’ Google Alert. So I know Google had indexed it in its blog database. But it was not in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Google Alert. Which got me to wondering, what does it take for a post to make into the daily digest of Google Alerts?

I put together a comparison of the two posts: the Lotusphere post, and the Connectbeam Three Silos post. I wanted to see where the Connectbeam post falls short. Take a look:

google-alerts-tale-of-the-tape

The table above includes some typical Google attributes: PageRank, term frequency, links. It also includes the next generation of content ranking: comments, bookmarks, tweets and Google Reader shares. On either basis, it’s surprising that the Lotusphere post made the cut, while the Connectbeam post didn’t.

So I’m still trying to figure out what makes the difference here. Clearly, the Three Silos post struck a bit of a chord in the Enterprise 2.0 community. I know this not because of links by other bloggers (although they were there), but by the other Web 2.0 ways people communicate what’s of value to them.

How about it Google? Time to update your algorithms to include attention signals from our growing use of social media?

The Top 10 Enterprise 2.0 Stories of 2008

The enterprise 2.0 space saw good action this year. I’ve had a chance to see it up close, starting the year with BEA Systems (now Oracle) and closing out the year with Connectbeam. I think it’s fair to say that in 2007, social software was still something of a missionary sale. In 2008, company inquiries increased a lot. The burden still falls on the vendors to articulate business benefits, adoption strategies and use cases. But enterprise customers are now partners in this work.

So let’s get to it. Here are my top ten stories for the year:

1. Activity Streams

Facebook really got this going with its newsfeed, and FriendFeed took it to an art form with its lifestreaming service. In 2008, many vendors added activity streams to their applications: Connectbeam, BEA Systems, Atlassian, SocialText, Jive Software and others.  Activity streams are great for improving awareness of colleagues’ activities, and adding a new searchable object: actions.

2. Forrester’s $4.6 Billion Forecast

Forrester Research made a splash with its forecast that Enterprise 2.0 will be a $4.6 billion market by 2013. The ReadWriteWeb story about it has been bookmarked to Del.icio.us 386 times and counting. Forrester’s projections provided a solid analytical framework for the different tools, used internally and externally. According to the analysis, social networking will be the most popular tool for companies. Whether you buy the forecast or not, they remain the best-known, most visible numbers to date.

3. Oracle Beehive

Larry Ellison is fond of essentially dismissing SaaS. He does not have Oracle invest much in the trend. But Oracle did seem to embrace Enterprise 2.0 in a big way this year with Beehive, which is an “integrated set of collaboration services.”  The New York Times quotes Oracle EVP  Chuck Rozwat: “It is a product we built from scratch over the last three years.” Now since Oracle is a huge enterprise software company, there’s plenty of skepticism about the capabilities and innovation of Beehive. But there’s no denying that Oracle has the ear of the enterprise, and picks up a lot of market intelligence through its customer base. While Beehive itself may or may not succeed, the idea that Oracle came out with Beehive was a big story.

4. AIIM/McKinsey Surveys

Research and consulting firms AIIM and McKinsey each came out with surveys of corporate interest in enterprise 2.0. The AIIM survey looked at levels of awareness and interest among different Enterprise 2.0 technologies. AIIM also took a fairly expansive view of social software. The top 3 “Enterprise 2.0″ technologies in terms of corporate awareness? Email, instant messaging, search. That’s actually a funny list, yet there are lessons there for vendors and consultants in the social software industry. If those are entrenched, can you play nicely with them? One other quote I like from the report:

This study of 441 end users found that a majority of organizations recognize Enterprise 2.0 as critical to the success of their business goals and objectives, but that most do not have a clear understanding of what Enterprise 2.0 is.

McKinsey’s survey of enterprises looked at the interest in various tools as well. It also asked respondents what the leading barriers were for success of social software initiatives. Top three were: (1) Lack of understanding for their financial return; (2) Company culture; (3) Insufficient incentives to adopt or experiment with the tools.

5. Facebook Co-Founder Leaves to Start an Enterprise 2.0 Company

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and colleague Justin Rosenstein announced they were leaving the hot consumer social network to start a new company. The new company will “build an extensible enterprise productivity suite,” with the goal of “making companies themselves run better.” Why would these young guys, sitting on top of the leader in consumer social networking, choose to exit? As I wrote at the time:

The Enterprise 2.0 market is still quite nascent and fragmented. Combine that industry profile with projected spending in the category, and suddenly you understand why these guys are striking out on their own.

Assuming they’ll be able to tap the mother ship for help, I think this was a fairly important story this year.

6. Microblogging Enters the Enterprise

Joining wikis, blogs, social bookmarking and other incumbent tools this year was microblogging . Given the way Twitter is used by Enterprise 2.0 aficionados, and is enjoying skyrocketing popularity, it’s no surprise we started seeing microblogging emerge for internal use. At the mostly consumer-focused TechCrunch50, enterprise microblogging start-up Yammer won the top prize. Other start-ups in the category include SocialCast and Present.ly. SocialText added microblogging with its release of Signals.

7. Gartner Narrows its Criteria for Social Software

Gartner came out with its Social Software Magic Quadrant in October. As SageCircle notes:

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is probably the iconic piece of analyst research. With its visibility and status, it also has enormous influence on vendor sales opportunities, especially when it comes time for IT buyers to draw up the all-important vendor short lists.

So it was with great interest when I read that Gartner had narrowed the criteria for whom it puts in the Magic Quadrant:

Added blogs and wikis to the functionality requirements

The effect of that is to establish those two tools as the de facto standard for enterprise social software inside the enterprise. To the extent corporate buyers are listening to Gartner for signals about the market, this will make it a bit more challenging for start-ups with interesting offerings that address other parts of the social software market. Yammer, for instance, won’t make it into their Magic Quadrant.

8. Enterprise RSS Fails to Take Off

RSS is one of those technologies that you know has huge value, and yet continues to struggle for awareness and adoption. Google tracks the leading “what is” searches. The fifth most popular on its list? “What is RSS?” Take that as both good and bad. Good that people want to know, bad that awareness continues to be a struggle.

Forrester analyst Oliver Young has a sharp write-up that shows enterprise RSS did not expand inside companies as many had thought it would this year. As he notes:

Of the three enterprise RSS vendors selling into this space at the start of 2008: KnowNow went out of business completely; NewsGator shifted focus and now leads with its Social Sites for SharePoint offering, while its Enterprise Server catches much less attention; and Attensa has been very quiet this year.

RSS is a great way to distribute content inside companies, but its ongoing limited adoption was a big non-story for the year.

9. IBM and Intel Issue Employee Social Media Guidelines

IBM and Intel each established guidelines for their employees who participate in social media. As I wrote, this essentially was a deputization of employees as brand managers out on the web. These market leaders were essentially saying, “have at it out there on blogs, social networks, Twitter, etc. But make sure you know the company’s expectations.” These guidelines represent a milestone in large enterprises’ comfort with social media. I expect we’ll see more of this in 2009.

10. The Recession

This affects all industries, globally, of course. And Enterprise 2.0 is no exception. Jive Software made news with its layoffs, but the effect was industry-wide. And of course, corporate buyers aren’t immune either.

Those are my ten. Did I miss a big story for 2008? Add your thoughts in the comments.

If you’re interested in tracking what happens in 2009, I encourage you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. It is a centralized location for tweets and Del.icio.us bookmarks that specifically relate to Enterprise 2.0.

*****

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Supply-Demand Curves for Attention

The basic ideas behind the Attention Economy are simple. Such an economy facilitates a marketplace where consumers agree to receives services in exchange for their attention.

Alex Iskold, ReadWriteWeb, The Attention Economy: An Overview

The attention economy. It’s a natural evolution of our ever-growing thirst for information, and the easier means to create it. It’s everywhere, and it’s not going anywhere. The democratization of content production, the endless array of choices for consumption.

In Alex’s post, he listed four attention services, as they relate to e-commerce: alerts, news, search, shopping.  In the world of information, I focus on three use cases for the consumption of information:

  1. Search = you have a specific need now
  2. Serendipity = you happen across useful information
  3. Notifications = you’re tracking specific areas of interest

I’ve previously talked about these three use cases. In a post over on the Connectbeam blog, I wrote a longer post about the supply demand curves for content in the Attention Economy. What are the different ways to increase share of mind for workers’ contributions, in the context of those three consumption use cases.

The chart below is from that post. It charts the content demand curves for search, serendipity and notifications.

micro-economies-of-attention-3-demand-curves-for-content

Following the blue dotted line…

  • For a given quantity of user generated content, people are willing to invest more attention on Search than on Notifications or Serendipity
  • For a given “price” of attention, people will consume more content via Search than for Notifications or Serendipity

Search has always been a primary use case. Google leveraged the power of that attention to dominate online ads.

Serendipity is relatively new entry in the world of consumption. Putting content in front of someone, content that they had not expressed any prior interest in. A lot of the e-commerce recommendation systems are built on this premise, such as Amazon.com’s recommendations. And companies like Aggregate Knowledge put related content in front of readers of media websites.

Notifications are content you have expressed a prior interest in, but don’t have an acute, immediate need for like you do with Search. I use the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed for this purpose.

The demand curves above have two important qualities that differentiate them:

  • Where they fall in relation to each other on the X and Y axes
  • Their curves

As you can see with how I’ve drawn them, Search and Notifications are still the best way to command someone’s attention. Search = relevance + need. Notifications = relevance.

Serendipity commands less attention, but it can have the property of not requiring opt-in by a user. Which means you can put a lot of content in front of users, and some percentage of it will be useful. The risk is that a site overdoes it, and dumps too much Serendipitous-type content in front of users. That’s a good way to drive them away because they have to put too much attention on what they’re seeing. Hence the Serendipity curve. If you demand too much attention, you will greatly reduce the amount of content consumed. Aggregate Knowledge typically puts a limited number of recommendations in front of readers.

On the Connectbeam blog post, I connect these subjects to employee adoption of social software. Check it out if that’s an area of interest for you.

*****

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 120508

From the home office in Truth or Consequences, NM…

#1: Love this post by Atlassian’s @barconati Connectbeam Connects | Confluence Customers Beam http://bit.ly/5VhY >> why E2.0 integrati …

#2: Noticing that my tweets that hit 140 characters are having text cut off well before 140. Anyone else?

#3: @twitter A bug. Char. < and > are stored as 4 char. in ur DB, not 1. Means each use cuts max char. of tweet by 3. This tweet’s max=134

#4: One effect of BackType – I am more conscientious than ever about commenting. Comments have the effect of Google Reader shares.

#5: Lump by Presidents of the USA comes on radio. Says 20-something, “Oh that’s the classic rock station.” Lump is classic rock? Ouch!

#6: One thing vacations with little kids ain’t…restful.

#7: RT @timoreilly Derived intelligence from large data sets is a kind of interest or “float” on data. Analogy of Web 2.0 data to capital.

#8: The H-P Social Computing Lab is doing some really interesting research http://bit.ly/k7dI

#9: RT @jbordeaux re: enterprise 2.0 “And like pornography: they’ll pay too much, get over-excited after tiny results, but soon regret it.”

#10: But at least I’ve got a Sam Adams.

Three Ways to Double the Value of Your Social Software

I did a Connectbeam webinar yesterday, Double the Value of Your Social Software. One thing about webinars is they really force you to crystallize your thinking, and you get to try out some cool new ideas. This one was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed bringing some unconventional examples to the discussion.

So how exactly does one “double the value” of social software? The core of the argument is that integrating the various social software apps inside companies produces a new layer of value. In terms of how this happens, I developed three areas of focus:

  1. Expand information’s reach
  2. Create an employee skills database
  3. Diversify and strengthen workers’ sources of information

The Slideshare below is the presentation I used in the webinar. Below the Slideshare, I describe the background and the three areas of focus.

“Enterprise Silos” 2.0

The great thing about companies rolling out the tools of Web 2.0 is that it lets people from everywhere contribute. Multiple people jump on wikis, blogs, microblogging, etc. Social software can tear down the departmental and geographic walls that separate employees.

So it’s ironic that these wall-busting apps end up as new walled gardens of participation. Employees update their Confluence wiki, they blog on Movable Type and Yammer away. But there’s no integration of the apps.

There’s a screaming need to pull these social software apps together. The folks over at venture capital firm Foundry Group laid out a nice investment theme with regard to Glue.  A lot of the logic from that post applies to the proliferation of social software apps inside companies.

By connecting the different social software apps inside companies, companies will realize a new source of value from them, “doubling” their value.

With that, let’s look at the three new sources of value when you integrate these apps.

Expand Information’s Reach

It’s true that information is the key driver of success in the market today. That’s a truism, overplayed theme, I know.

But, it has had its effects inside companies. You see this theme played out in architectural decisions, such Service Oriented Architectures, which makes integrating data and processes much easier. Mashups are another area where we see this.

How about the consumers of data? How to optimize the creation, distribution and consumption of data inside the enterprise?

This is an area where Enterprise 2.0 can learn a lesson from the world of e-commerce. E-commerce companies work hard to optimize the finding and purchasing processes on their sites. Every extra step it takes to find something or to purchase it causes some percentage of consumers to drop out. So they work hard to provide a full, but easy experience.

How about applying that thinking to accessing the employee-generated content inside companies?
How to reduce the steps to accessing this content?

There are three components for what I’ll call an Information Reach Program:

  • Search
  • Serendipity
  • Notifications

Let’s take a look at those three components.

Search: A Forrester Research survey found that only 44% of employees can regularly find information on their corporate intranet. Meanwhile, Pew Research found that 87% of people can regularly find what they want on the Internet.

Where do you think employees will turn first for information? Now there’s nothing wrong with googling something. New information needs to be brought into the enterprise. It’s healthy and vital.

But the pendulum has swung too far toward looking externally, particularly with the rise employee-generated content. Thing likes social bookmarking, blogging and wikis are letting employees find and filter an array of great information. Yet it’s too easy to ignore.

One way to counteract that? Integrate employee-generated content with search engines. When an employees runs searches, they get their usual search results. But why not also show them related content from the company’s social software? Slide #12 in the Slideshare presentation shows Connectbeam’s example of that.

Serendipity: Also known as, finding useful information when you weren’t expecting it. Or as Dennis Howlett put it:

Serendipity: the 21st C word for ‘bloody good luck.

If search is purposeful, serendipity is passive, and in-the-flow of whatever else you’re doing. For serendipity to work, you have to expose people to a range of information during their activities. And let’s be honest – much of that information will score low on the usefulness scale.

But I argue that you need to cionsider serendipity from a portfolio perspective. If you can enable employees to be exposed to random information in high volumes, there will be cases of great matches between something a worker needs and a piece of information she wouldn’t normally see.

Key here is putting this information in-the-flow of daily work. If all employees do is watch a cascade of information, they’re not being very productive.

Notifications: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” says Clay Shirky. Search is purposeful, serendipity is luck. How about those nuggets of informaiton that you want to know, but aren’t actively searching for and miss during the course of the day? Notifications are the third component of the Information Reach Program.

Key here is to let people personalize their notifications, because people aren’t monolithic in their interests. Top down push processes diminish employees’ interest in tracking the data presented. Filter on groups (e.g. departments, projects, communities of interest), individuals and keywords. These go a long way toward answering Clay Shirky’s point about filter failure.

Create an Employee Skills Database

When you integrate the different social software apps, you can create rich set of data that well-describes what each employee knows and is working on.It’s not just your position and previous titles that matter – it’s your contributions, visible and accessible by all.

We’re seeing steps toward this approach on sites like LinkedIn, with its new apps platform. When you view a person on LinkedIn, you see more than their resume. You get a living, dynamic view of their work. Someday, all that content you’re piping into your LinkedIn  profile should be searchable by others – beyond the current resume entries.

Same idea holds inside enterprises. If you could aggregate employees’ contributions across the social software apps, you have a much richer view of their skills, knowledge and interests than the typical corporate directory.

Connectbeam customer and all-around smart guy Rich Hoeg of Honeywell put it nicely at the recent Defrag conference:

With Connectbeam, I was looking for a social bookmarking application. I ended up with a skills database.

Yes, that’s a Connectbeam plug. But the logic applies more broadly.

Diversify and Strengthen Workers’ Sources of Information

I’ve discussed previously on this blog a fantastic research paper that evaluated the power of employees’ social networks to affect productivity. Basically, the more diverse an employee’s sources of information, and the stronger her connections to a large number of peers, the more productive she is.

Now tie this idea in with Harvard professor Andrew McAfee’s thinking about employees’ Strong, Weak and Potential ties inside companies. Employees already maintain Strong ties inside companies. That’s the status quo out there.

The opportunity for companies is to work those Week and Potential ties. Move them closer to close ties. How?

  • Make employee contributions as findable as possible (i.e. expand information’s reach)
  • Associate activity and tags to individuals
  • Enable easy following of the activities of others
  • Fish where the fish are – put employee generated content where people do their work

Wrapping up

This webinar was a lot of fun, and I think you’ll notice some different thoughts than what is usually seen in these presentations. There are several ideas included in it that really merit exploration separately. I’ll probably do that on this blog, and over on the Connectbeam blog as well.

*****

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Newsletters Are Still Viable? How I Approached My First Newsletter Email

In some ways, I’m the worst guy to be in charge of emailing a newsletter out on behalf of my company Connectbeam. I’m very dismissive of spam email. I hang up on telemarketers without guilt, after quickly saying “put me on your do not call list”. I ignore newspaper and website ads, I don’t watch commercials.

I like my little cloistered world…

But newsletters are back in vogue it seems. Longtime blogger Jason Calacanis famously dropped his blog for an email newsletter. Chris Brogan maintains a newsletter. I subscribe to a newsletter provided by analyst relations firm SageCircle.

Clearly there continues to be life in newsletters despite the advent of RSS. I guess I should rephrase that. The dominant form of online information distribution is email, with a RSS still a small part of the pie. And email does have some advantages – people spend more time there in a business setting. It also has an outreach aspect that bugs the hell out of A-List bloggers, but can be less intrusive for everyday people.

As a young company looking to expand its brand and message, Connectbeam needs to consider the newsletter a part of its overall engagement strategy.

So I recognize the importance of it, even as I’m probably the last person who would read anything like this. Which, in a way, made me well-suited for tackling this.

Making It More Than a Typical Company Marketing Piece

The email went out to 253 people – we didn’t spam some purchased list of thousands of names. The subject line was: “Social Software During a Recession – Connectbeam Nov 2008″. I wanted the email to be topical, not some spam about a product release.

Here’s the email (also available online):

connectbeam-newsletter-nov-2008One of our HTML guys put together a good-looking layout.The email went out yesterday morning, and here are two stats on it so far:

  • 28% opened
  • 2 unsubscribes

My overall objective is to make the email useful, and to build Connectbeam’s presence out in the market. If I’m successful in the former, I believe I’ll be successful in the latter. A third objective is to advertise upcoming webinars as well. That’s going to be an ongoing battle, as I’ll describe below.

There are four sections highlighted in the email graphic. Here’s what I was doing with each of those.

1. Opening Message

The first challenge is getting people to open the email. Once you’re through that hurdle, next you’ve probably got 5 seconds to catch their attention. My guess is that people will do a quick scan of the different sections, then read the opening sentence at the top of the newsletter.

In writing the opening message, I essentially wrote a mini-blog post. Readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of linking to others’ work, and this was no exception. I linked to a nice post by Jevon MacDonald on the FAST Forward blog. Then I added my two cents. Right off the bat, I wanted to give the reader something useful. A couple people clicked on the link to Jevon’s post.

Something else that seemed important – putting my name on the email. I’ve been immersed in social media enough to know that a soul-less corporate entity as the sender immediately loses some of the engagement. It comes across as a pure marketing exercise. So I wanted my name on there.

The other thing about putting your name on it? It raise your own expectations for the utility of the email. After all, people are going to associate its quality with you.

2. Three Things We’re Reading

There are three objectives with this section:

  1. Give the reader links to information that they may find useful
  2. Provide links that fit a theme for the newsletter
  3. Connectbeam is all about collaborative information sharing – so practice what we preach

Based on the click stats, this seems to been a successful part. That first link for the MIT study of a company’s implicit social network (I blogged about it here) has been clicked 18 times. Clearly people were digging that one. The IBM tagging savings story was clicked 7 times, which was not too bad either.

My intention with this section is to design something that will be useful to recipients. Even if you currently have no interest in Connectbeam, you’ll find enough value in these links to continue receiving the email. That’s why I’m particularly attuned to the unsubscribe stats. Having only two people unsubscribe so far is a good start from my perspective.

There are no silver bullets with this newsletter program. It’s not like I expect people to sign contracts after reading the email. I’m looking at the newsletter as a long term brand-building exercise, and as a basis for increased engagement over time. But the only way that works is if they agree to continue receiving it.

3. Upcoming Webinar

Alas, this part of the email has not gotten a lot of love so far. I understand. Webinars are a time commitment. People have to make their choices.

Enterprise vendor webinars are a tough sell. I’m starting to appreciate the finer points of webinars. When I was at BEA, I led a webinar for social search inside the enterprise, talking about general issues and the Pathways application. We had 80 attendees, including many from the Fortune 500 set. It established a baseline for me on these things. But the driver of that level of attention? BEA was a significant presence in the market. Many, many companies had BEA portal software, and were curious about the new social computing applications available for that.

Connectbeam isn’t BEA. We don’t have nearly the presence. So a webinar by our company doesn’t yet have the fertile ground that a BEA did.

One trick I’ve seen companies employ (which we even did at BEA), is to partner with a well-known analyst or consulting firm, or with a big-name vendor. SocialText has done these with Forrester. NewsGator has worked with Microsoft. There’s an upcoming $100 webinar (yes, attendees pay $100!) by market research firm Radicati with Atlassian, SocialText and Telligent.

This webinar partnering idea is one I’m going to look into more.

4. News and Events

In this section, I describe the recent 3.1 release of Connectbeam’s application. This is an area where I can give an update on what is happening with Connectbeam. It’s the closest thing we have to an annoying email PR blast about what we’re doing.

But integrated into a useful email with other parts, I think it works. This section will rise on the email when I don’t have any upcoming webinars to tout.

Any Suggestions?

You now know my approach and objectives with this email program. I’m the guy who doesn’t like these things, put into a position of sending them out. And Connectbeam isn’t a major name like Google or Oracle, so there isn’t a ready-to-read audience out there. This stuff takes some hustle and experimentation.

If you have any thoughts on what you see, or what’s worked well for you, I’d love to hear it.

*****

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Defrag 2008 Notes – Picasso, Information Day Trading, Stowe “The Flow” Boyd

defrag-logo

One of the most consistently provocative conferences I attended last year — my own Money:Tech 2008 aside, of course — was Eric Norlin’s Defrag conference. Oodles of interesting people, lots of great conversation and all of it aimed at one of my favorite subjects: How we cope with the information tsunami.

Paul Kedrosky, Defrag 2008 Conference

I spent two days out in Denver earlier this week at Defrag 2008 with Connectbeam. As Kedrosky notes above, the conference is dedicated to managing the increasing amount of information we’re all exposed to. Now my conference experience is limited. I’ve been to five of them, all in 2008: Gartner Portals, BEA Participate, TechCrunch50, KMWorld, Defrag.

Defrag was my favorite by far. Both for the subject matter discussed and the attendees. The conference has an intimate feel to it, but a high wattage set of attendees.

In true information overflow style, I wanted to jot down some notes from the conference.

Professor William Duggan: He’s a professor at Columbia Business School. He gave the opening keynote: “Strategic Intuition”, which is the name of his book.  Duggan talked about how studies of the brain showed that we can over-attribute people’s actions as being left-brained or right-brained. Scientists are seeing that both sides of the brain are used in tackling problems.

He then got into the meat of his session – that people innovate by assembling unrelated data from their past experience. For example, he talked about how Picasso’s style emerged. Picasso’s original paintings were not like those for which he became famous. The spark? First, meeting with Henri Matisse, and admiring his style. In that meeting, Picasso happened to become fascinated with a piece of African sculpture. In one of those “aha!” moments, Picasso combined the styles of Matisse and African folk art to create his own distinctive style. He combined two unrelated influences to create his own style.

Duggan also described how all innovation is fundamentally someone “stealing” ideas from others. In “stealing”, he means that people assemble parts of what they’re exposed to. This is opposed to imitating, which to copy something in whole. That’s not innovation.

Re-imagining the metaphors behind collaborative tools: This session examined whether we need need ways of thinking about collaboration inside the enterprise. The premise here is that we need to come up with new metaphors that drive use cases and technology design. I’ll hold off on describing most of what was said. My favorite moment was when Jay Simons of Atlassian rebutted the whole notion of re-imagining the metaphors. He said the ones we have now are fine, e.g. “the water cooler”. What we need is to stop chasing new metaphors, and execute on the ones we have.

Rich Hoeg, Honeywell: Rich is a manager in Honeywell’s corporate IT group (and a Connectbeam customer). He talked about the adoption path of social software inside Honeywell, going from a departmental implementation to much wider implementation, and how his own career path mirrored that transition. He’s also a BarCamp guy. Cool to hear an honest-to-goodness geek making changes in the enterprise world.

Yatman Lai, Cisco: Yatman discussed Cisco’s initiatives around collaboration and tying together their various enterprise 2.0 apps. I think this is something we’ll see more of as time goes along. Companies are putting in place different social software apps, but they’re still siloed. Connecting these social computing apps will become more important in the future.

Stowe “The Flow”: Stowe Boyd apparently gave quite the interesting talk. I didn’t attend it, because Connectbeam had a presentation opposite his. But from what I gather, the most memorable claim Stowe made was that there’s no such thing as attention overload. That we all can be trained to watch a constant flow of information and activities go by, and get our work done. I think there will be a segment of the population that does indeed do this. If you can swing it, you’re going to be well-positioned to be in-the-know about the latest happenings and act on them.

But in talking with various people after the presentation, there was a sense that Stowe was overestimating the general population’s ability and desire to train their minds to handle both the work they need to do for their employers, and to take in the cascade of information flowing by (e.g. Twitter, FriendFeed). Realistically, we’ll asynchronously take in information, not in constant real-time.

We’re Becoming Day Traders in Information: I heard this quote a few times, not sure who said it (maybe someone from Sxipper or Workstreamr). It’s an intriguing idea. Each unit of information has value, and that value varies by person and circumstances. Things like Twitter are the trading platform. Of course, the problem with this analogy is that actual day traders work with stocks, cattle futures, options, etc. Someone has to actually produce something. If all we do is trade in information and conversations, who’s making stuff?

Mark Koenig: Mark is an analyst with Saugatuck Technology. He gave the closing keynote for Day 1, Social Computing and the Enterprise: Closing the Gaps. What are the gaps?

  1. Social network integration
  2. Information relevance
  3. Integration with enterprise applications
  4. The culture shift

Mark also believes in the enterprise market,  externally focused social computing will grow more than internally focused. Why? Easier ROI, more of a sales orientation.

Charlene Li: Former Forrester analyst Charlene Li led off Day 2 with her presentation, Harnessing the Implicit Valkue of the Social Graph. Now running her own strategic consulting firm, Altimeter Group, Charlene focused on how future application will weave “social” into everything they do. It will be a part of the experience, not a distinct, standalone social network thing. As she says, “social networks will be like air”. She ran the gamut of technologies in this presentation. You can see some tweets from the presentation here.

One thing she said was to “prepare for the demise of the org chart”. When I see things like that, I do laugh a bit. The org chart isn’t going anywhere. Enterprises will continue to have reporting structures for the next hundred years and beyond. What will change is the siloed way in which people only work with people within their reporting structures. Tearing down those walls will be an ongoing theme inside companies.

Neeraj Mathur, Sun Micro: Neeraj talked about Sun’s internal initiatives around social computing in his session, “Building Social Capital in an Enterprise”. Sun is pretty advanced in its internal efforts. One particular element stuck with me. It the rating that each employee receives based on their participation in the Sun social software. Called Community Equity, the personal rating is built on these elements (thanks for Lawrence Liu for tweeting them):

Contribution Q + Skills Q + Participation Q + Role Q = Personal Q

Sun’s approach is an implementation of an idea that Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee put out there, Should Knowledge Workers Have Enterprise 2.0 Ratings? It’s an interesting idea – companies can gain a lot of value from social computing, why not recognize those that do it well? Of course, it’s also got potential for unintended consequences, so it needs to be monitored.

Laura “Pistachio” Fitton: Twitter-ologist Laura Fitton led a panel called “Finding Serendipitous Content Through Context”. The session covered the value of serendipity, and the ways in which it happens. The panel included executives from Aggregate Knowledge and Zemanta, as well as Carla Thompson from Guidewire.

What interested me was the notions of what serendipity really is. For example, Zemanta does text matching on your blog post to find other blog posts that are related. So there’s an element of structured search to bring related articles.

So I asked this question: Does persistent keyword search, delivered as RSS or email, count as “serendipity”? Carla’s response was , no it doesn’t. Serendipity is based on randomness. It’s an interesting topic worth a future blog post potentially.

And of course, Laura encouraged people to tweet during the session, using the hash tag #serendip. The audience tweets are a good read.

Daniela Barbosa, Dow Jones, DataPortability.org: Daniela works for Dow Jones, with coverage of their Synaptica offering. She’s also an ardent supporter of data portability, serving as Chairperson of DataPortability.org. Her session was titled Pulling the Threads on User Data. She’s a librarian by training, but she kicks butt in leading edge thinking about data portability and organization. In her presentation, she says she’s just like you. She then pops up this picture of her computer at work:

daniela-barbosa-laptop-screen

Wow – now that’s some flow. Stowe Boyd would be proud.

Wrapping up: Those are some notes from what I heard there. I couldn’t get to everything, as I had booth duties for Connectbeam. Did plenty of demos for people. And got to meet many people in real life that I have followed and talked with online. Looking forward to Defrag 2009.

*****

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The Revenue Impact of Enterprise 2.0

I recently read a great study that looked at the impact of social networks inside companies. Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity was written by academics at MIT, NYU and BU. The authors analyzed the social graph of employees for a 14-office midsize executive recruiting firm.

The firm didn’t actually have a social networking application in-house. It was all email. But what the authors did is look at the email connections of workers to extrapolate their social graphs. And what they found was enlightening.

I encourage you to read the study itself, as it has a wealth of good information in it. I’ll call out my favorite observations from the report:

A one standard deviation increase in betweenness centrality in the email network is associated with approximately $76,000 greater revenue output per year controlling for human capital, demographic variables and use of the ESS system.

A one standard deviation increase in network diversity is associated with approximately $83,000 greater annual revenue output.

Betweenness centrality: What’s the probability that an individual will fall on the shortest path between any two other individuals? This attribute measures the strength of an individual’s connections to other employees. Sort of a probability-based LinkedIn.

Network diversity: Measures the degree to which an individual’s contacts are connected to each other. If your social network consists of people who all know each other well, your network diversity is low. If your social network has a lot of connections that don’t know one another, your diversity is high.

Here’s what the network diversity impact looks like graphically:

The folks with the best access to a diverse set of opinions, knowledge and perspectives outperformed their peers.

How Do You Make These Findings Actionable Across the Organization

The author’s looked at the connections people had built on their own, and those who had the best, most diverse networks outperformed everyone else. What Enterprise 2.0 does is take these characteristics of the top performers and exposes them for everyone else in the organization.

If you force your employees to create these networks on their own with the existing offline relationships and siloed data, you’re not going to create opportunities for network improvements across the board. By making employees perspectives and work visible and searchable, you put every employee a step ahead of where they are now

I’ve got a fuller write-up over on the Connectbeam company blog. Check it out if you’re interested in developing an ROI of enterprise social software.

*****

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Notes on Presenting to Gartner…and That Magic Quadrant Thing

I had the opportunity to create and lead a presentation to Gartner last week, on behalf of my company Connectbeam. Now if you don’t about Gartner, the one thing to know is that Gartner’s analyses are used by organizations as decision criteria for purchases. Gartner affects how a lot of IT money gets spent.

So naturally, enterprise vendors are quite interested in how they are viewed by the respective Gartner analysts covering their sector. In fact, here’s how analyst relations strategy firm SageCircle describes it:

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is probably the iconic piece of analyst research. With its visibility and status, it also has enormous influence on vendor sales opportunities, especially when it comes time for IT buyers to draw up the all-important vendor short lists.

For an amazing review of the whole Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) phenomenon, make sure you read SageCircle’s 7-part series about the MQ.

And here’s what a Magic Quadrant looks like:

The MQ focuses on two dimensions. Here’s a description of them from CMS Wire:

  • Ability to execute: This criteria measures an organization’s success at selling and supporting both its products and services from a global perspective
  • Completeness of vision: This criteria deals with a company’s potential and helps to separate the vendors who are focused solely on the short-term from the vendors who have a more long-term view of their market

Yes, it’s a simple graph. But so much magic occurs to determine where companies fall on the X and Y axes of the MQ. For reference, Forrester Research has its own version of this, called the Wave.

Presenting Connectbeam to Gartner

In my previous jobs in technology, I’d only been exposed to one major analyst briefing. I had the good fortune to sit in on BEA Systems briefing to Forrester about our portals and enterprise 2.0 offerings. That particular session, which lasted several hours, was led by the head of marketing for the Business Interaction Division, Jay Simons. Jay did a wonderful job leading the Forrester guys through the BEA product and roadmap.

But now for Connectbeam, it was on me. What should we present to Gartner? I hadn’t read any good information on the specifics of what points to make to Gartner. But I did remember some points from the BEA presentation several months back.

After the usual iterations, dead ends and inspirations that characterize presentation building, I settled on three core points:

  1. Our latest release. Connectbeam recently GA’d Spotlight 3.0. Pretty important to talk about that.
  2. Our roadmap and vision. I didn’t think about the MQ as I did this, it just seemed a natural for talking with industry thought leaders. Where are we heading?
  3. Our customers. The idea here is that Gartner needs to know how you’re tracking. It turns out this was some of the most engaged conversation during our hour-long presentation.

The presentation seemed to go well. I personally enjoyed the chance to talk with these guys, because they’re smart and focused on the enterprise 2.0 sector. They just know stuff. Thanks to analyst Jeffrey Mann for tweeting about the meeting.

We originally anticipated two analysts from Gartner, ended up with four. It’s only now that I realize that the next enterprise social software Magic Quadrant is targeted for a 4th quarter release. Perhaps that’s why we had a larger attendance, but I’m not expecting Connectbeam to be in this MQ. We’re really just starting to maintain a dialogue with Gartner.

I know this is an area of focus for a lot of companies. Thought I’d share this experience, in case others are talking with Gartner or other firms. If you’re interested in talking more about it, feel free to connect with me through Twitter or LinkedIn (links are also on the right side of this blog).

*****

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